Ouch, a new year is upon us and the advertisements for weight loss programs are going to overwhelm our airwaves (ugh!). Many of us have thought about the CoolSculpting, or cryolipolysis procedure. It is a cosmetic treatment that removes excess fat from stubborn areas. It works by freezing fat cells, killing them and breaking them down in the process.
CoolScuplting is a fat reduction method that targets fat in areas of the body that are more difficult to eliminate through diet and exercise. It is less risky than traditional fat reduction methods such as liposuction. However, while it’s generally safe, it’s important for people to be aware of some potential side effects.
CoolSculpting is a non-invasive procedure, which means it does not involve any cuts, anesthesia, or any instruments entering the body. It was the most used body sculpting procedure in the United States in 2018.
What is CoolSculpting®?
CoolSculpting is a branded form of fat reduction method called cryolipolysis. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As with other forms of cryolipolysis, it uses freezing temperatures to break down fat cells. Fat cells are more affected by cold temperatures than other cells. This means that the cold does not damage other cells, such as the skin or the underlying tissues.
During the procedure, the practitioner sucks the skin over the area of fatty tissue into an applicator that cools the fat cells. The cold temperatures numb the site and some people report feeling a cooling sensation. Most CoolSculpting procedures take around 35 to 60 minutes, depending on the area a person wants to target. There is no downtime as there is no damage to the skin or tissue. Some people report pain at the CoolSculpting site, similar to what they might experience after intense training or a minor muscle injury. Others report tingling, firmness, slight discoloration, swelling, and itching. After the procedure, it can take around 4 to 6 months for fat cells to leave a person’s body. During this time, the fat area will decrease by an average of 20%.
How much does CoolSculpting cost?
According to CoolSculpting®, the typical cost of its treatment ranges from $ 2,000 to $ 4,000. However, areas that require small applicators, such as the chin and jawline, can range anywhere from $ 700 to $ 900.
The 2020 Statistical Report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons shows that the national average cost of non-invasive fat reduction procedures is $ 1,437. Prices vary depending on the number of treatments and the areas an individual wishes to treat: The larger the area, the more expensive the treatment.
It is also a good idea for a person to consider the number of treatments needed. Areas with more fat may need more treatment. Factors such as geographic location and the skills of the treatment provider can also influence the cost.
CoolSculpting is a cosmetic procedure that does not treat an underlying health problem, so insurance generally does not cover the costs.
Does CoolSculpting work?
CoolSculpting and other forms of cryolipolysis have a high success and satisfaction rate. However, people should note that the treatment effects only apply to the targeted areas. It also does not tighten the skin.
Moreover, the procedure does not work for everyone. It works best on people near the ideal body weight for their build with fat that can be pinched on stubborn areas. A 2017 study notes that the procedure was effective, especially in people with lower body mass. Lifestyle and other factors may also play a role. CoolSculpting is not a weight loss treatment or a miracle cure for an unhealthy lifestyle. A person who continues with an unhealthy diet and remains sedentary while undergoing CoolSculpting can expect less fat reduction.
CoolSculpting effectively removes stubborn areas of fat. The body eliminates frozen and broken down fatty tissue in 4-6 months. The procedure also gives long lasting results. It destroys fat cells, so they won’t come back.
What does the research say?
A 2015 review in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery analyzed 19 previous studies on cryolipolysis. Research generally indicates that CoolSculpting is a relatively safe and effective treatment for removing certain areas of fat.
A 2020 study found that cryolipolysis using newer, better fitting applicators is safe and effective in rapidly reducing excess fat in various areas of the body.
However, a 2020 review notes that people with cold-induced conditions such as Raynaud’s disease and skin disorders should not undergo the procedure.
A 2015 study also found that cryolipolysis resulted in greater fat reduction than ultrasound.
Side effects and complications of CoolSculpting
Cryolipolysis is a non-invasive procedure, so it does not require cuts, anesthesia, or drugs that can cause an allergic reaction. This means that the rate of complications and side effects is lower than that of more invasive procedures, such as liposuction.
Analysis in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal found that out of 1,445 people, only 12 people, or less than 1%, reported complications. The most common complication was less sensation in the treated area than before.
Other complications can include:
A 2015 exam found no serious complications, such as bleeding, changes in skin pigmentation, or scarring.
A 2021 study found that paradoxical fat hyperplasia (PAH) occurs in 0.05 to 0.39% of cases. PAH is a condition in which instead of destroying the fat in the treated area, the fat grows more than before the treatment. PAH is rare and can be treated with traditional liposuction. However, this is more common in older units and applicators and in some people with characteristics that predispose them to disease. This includes being male and having increased testosterone levels.
How long does CoolSculpting take?
CoolSculpting destroys fat cells and those particular cells will not come back. A 2016 study even found that the effects can last for six to nine years. Destroying existing fat cells will not prevent new fat cells from appearing. This is why a healthy lifestyle is essential to preserve the results of CoolSculpting. A person who does not exercise or follow a healthy diet may soon see fat accumulating again.
Alternatives to CoolSculpting
There are other types of fat reduction methods besides cryolipolysis.
Coolsculpting vs liposuction – For people who want faster results in just one treatment, liposuction may be a better option. However, liposuction is more invasive, so it carries a much higher risk of complications than cryolipolysis. A 2017 study found that liposuction alone had a 0.7% rate of major complications, but this risk increases with combined procedures.
CoolSculpting vs Kybella® – Kybella is a branded form of injection lipolysis. It uses an injection to destroy the submental fat or the fat under the chin. While CoolSculpting is non-invasive, Kybella is minimally invasive and can damage nearby structures, causing marginal mandibular nerve injury causing asymmetric smile and dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.
CoolSculpting vs SculpSure® – SculpSure is another non-invasive fat reduction method. It uses laser lipolysis or a heat-based laser to “melt” the fat cells. Compared to CoolSculpting, SculpSure sessions are faster, averaging 25 minutes, and can cover multiple areas at once. Both procedures have similar downtime, pain level, side effects, and potential risks.
CoolSculpting vs. Vanquish® – Vanquish is a type of radiofrequency lipolysis that uses radio waves to kill fat cells. A 2020 study found that Vanquish effectively reduced a person’s fat, body mass index (BMI), and abdominal circumference.
The bottom line
CoolSculpting is an effective fat reduction method. However, it does not apply to everyone and will not address the underlying cause of the unwanted fat. People undergoing the procedure should combine it with lifestyle changes to prolong its results.
CoolSculpting is only one option for removing fat. A person should discuss fat burning options with a doctor and the benefits and risks of these procedures, which may vary from individual to individual.
Medically reviewed by Catherine Hannan, MD
Written by Rachel Ann Tee-Melegrito; Updated December 16, 2021
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